Over the years, the SEC has become known for its defensive prowess. Elite defenders litter the conference’s record books, and the linebacker position has been manned by some of the very best.
We have compiled a list of the 10 best sophomore seasons by SEC linebackers based on their total number of tackles. Defensive stat records are limited for many of the players on this list, so some will have more information than others.
Interestingly, many of the top sophomore seasons by SEC linebackers were achieved in the ’70s and ’80s. This speaks to the evolution of both the position and college football offenses. Simply put, there are few true three-down linebackers anymore, and advancements in passing have limited the number of chances a linebacker has at registering tackles.
No. 10: Andrew Coleman, Vanderbilt (1979)
Sophomore stats: 140 tackles
Known in his day as the “Minister of Defense,” Coleman remains the career leader in tackles for Vanderbilt. As a follow up to his breakout sophomore season, Coleman recorded 174 tackles in 1980, which is the second highest single-season mark in school history.
No. 9: Jim Kovach, Kentucky (1975)
Sophomore stats: 144 tackles
Kentucky’s career leader in tackles, Kovach became a central part of the Wildcats’ defense as a sophomore in 1975. He followed that up with two more incredible seasons in which he led the team in tackles with 143 as a junior and 164 as a senior.
No. 8: Ben Zambiasi, Georgia (1975)
Sophomore stats: 148 tackles
One of the top defensive players in Georgia history, Zambiasi helped the program find success before the arrival of one Herschel Walker. His 148 tackles led the team and began a stretch of three straight 140-plus tackle seasons. Zambiasi’s 467 tackles remain the most in Georgia history.
No. 7: Jim Noonan, Tennessee (1977)
Sophomore stats: 150 tackles, 4 sacks, 4 FF, 2 FR
Noonan was part of an excellent string of linebackers for the Vols in the ’70s. His high mark came during his sophomore year when Noonan led the team in tackles and made plays all over the field. Incredibly, 104 of his 150 tackles were unassisted and cemented Noonan’s status as an elite defender. His 355 tackles remain the sixth most in Tennessee history.
No. 6: John Grimsley, Kentucky (1981)
Sophomore stats: 153 tackles
While Kentucky may not seem like a powerhouse defensive program for many of today’s SEC fans, the Wildcats had some of the conference’s best linebackers during the ’80s, and Grimsley was no exception. He recorded 153 and 156 tackles in 1981 and 182, respectively, and he still has the fifth most tackles in school history.
No. 5: Ray Costict, Mississippi State (1974)
Sophomore stats: 156 tackles
Mississippi State’s career tackles leader, Costict owns three of the top 10 single-season marks in program history. Over his final three seasons, Costict averaged just under 156 tackles for the Bulldogs. Costict began his career at Mississippi State as a fullback, but he ended it as an All-SEC linebacker and one of the best defenders in school history.
No. 4: Randy Holleran, Kentucky (1988)
Sophomore stats: 161 tackles
Holleran burst onto the scene as a redshirt sophomore with a 161-tackle campaign, which included a school-record 102 solo tackles. He recorded 18 tackles in three separate games and earned first-team All-SEC honors for his efforts. Despite playing only three full seasons, Holleran finished his college career with over 300 tackles.
No. 3: Andy Spiva, Tennessee (1974)
Sophomore stats: 163 tackles
The SEC’s career leader in tackles, Spiva was a force for Tennessee’s defense throughout his entire career. Spiva averaged 137 tackles per season in his four years with the Vols, and he continued to improve with each year. As a senior, Spiva recorded 194 tackles, which remains the single-season school record. Unfortunately, Spiva died in a single-car accident at the age of 25 while he was a member of the Atlanta Falcons.
No. 2: Marty Moore, Kentucky (1991)
Sophomore stats: 183 tackles
Before becoming the last pick in the 1994 NFL Draft and earning the “Mr. Irrelevant” moniker, Moore was a star linebacker for Kentucky. He led the SEC in tackles as both a sophomore and junior and was named a first-team All-SEC member in his senior season while leading Kentucky to the 1993 Peach Bowl. Moore finished his career with 470 tackles.
No. 1: Freddie Smith, Auburn (1977)
Sophomore stats: 193 tackles, 1 INT, 1 TD
“Fast Freddie,” as he was known during his time at Auburn, was a blur on the football field. Smith remains the Tigers’ career leader in tackles, and his 193 tackles in 1977 are the most an Auburn player has ever recorded in a single season. Although he came to Auburn as a running back, Smith was transitioned to linebacker before his freshman season. In his home debut for the Tigers, Smith recorded 23 tackles, which was a single-game school record at the time.